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Puella Magi Madoka Magica the Movie: Rebellion – Review

by Miguel Douglas

@isugoi

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Puella Magi Madoka Magica (2011) has always been a series that I have respected for the simple fact that it brought about a mature reinterpretation of the Mahou Shoujo (Magical Girl) genre. In a crowded genre where most series relentlessly adhere to tired tropes and exploitative tendencies, Madoka Magica stood above the rest as a testament to how genres can expand upon their own conventional traits and seek to become something refreshingly new. While still expressing many of the traditional elements of the genre itself, the series progressively became one that strikingly inverted many of those elements to portray a heart wrenching narrative that intelligently explored concepts such as friendship and the absolute lengths one will go in order to preserve that friendship. It was a tragically dark experience as it neared its conclusion, but not without providing a lingering presence of hope. Puella Magi Madoka Magica: Rebellion is the final film in a trilogy (the prior two films, Beginnings (2012) and Eternal (2013), were recaps of the television series), conceivably bringing about an untroubled and joyous ending to the Madoka Magica series as a whole. Oh, how fate can be so devilishly cruel.

From its outset, Rebellion is a film primarily surrounding the notions of friendship, hope, and despair, with the latter being two very distinct but interchanging facets of the film as whole. The external and internal struggles of the characters, especially that of Homura, are emotionally involving as they are devastatingly melancholic concerning their circumstances within the film. Like the television series itself – and perhaps even more visible here – Rebellion is not a cheerful tale in the slightest, perhaps even suggestive of being all too depressive in accordance to the events that play out throughout the film. But one can also see such directorial choices as considerably courageous for a narrative that previously offered some sense of optimism within its concluding television arc, with the film dispelling much of the falsified sense of hope and confronting the wicked reality of it all. What we find here are characters that are seeking a resolution that they do not fully understand, with Homura being viewed as the sole individual who has the appropriate knowledge to correct the terrible mishaps that have been occurring within a continual time loop. It is Homura’s actions that motivate us throughout the film, sympathizing with her plight as she attempts to put everything in its proper place and finally end her suffering as well as the suffering of her friends.

But to say that Rebellion does not cleverly appropriate and subsequently mess with the viewer’s genuine emotions would be a clear understatement. Both writer Gen Urobuchi and director(s) Akiyuki Shinbo and Yukihiro Miyamoto bring about revelatory events that will certainly make some viewers unappreciative of the final outcome of the film as whole, which is a response that is definitely not unwarranted. The unpredictable nature of the narrative produces some very startling moments throughout the film, with some working as plausible occurrences and others seemingly out of left field. The latter is especially seen towards the end of the film, with some character choices inevitably appearing as absolutely detestable, which is especially alarming considering their prior attitude towards the remainder of the cast. But despite these decisions and the ability of the character to willfully administer them, one can not avoid the initial distaste that will most likely set in due to the cruel twist of events, although the reasoning behind such decisions do not reside outside of logical reasoning. Urobuchi’s astute ability as a writer to showcase the beauty from within the harsh circumstances of the film’s characters fashions Rebellion as an emotionally arresting viewing experience that will certainly cause much controversy for what it chooses to do with its characters and their predicaments.

Urobuchi, Shinbo, and Miyamoto also elaborate and expand upon the Madoka Magica universe through Rebellion, another decision that many viewers may be at odds with. While the pacing of the film is quite well done, much of the film’s narrative towards the end heavily relies upon expositional sequences to expound on the film’s very narrative-driven focus. Considering that the film introduces a variety of creative elements that adds to the overall plot, so many of these new developments can not sufficiently be elaborated upon in a matter that will be intelligible to every viewer. This is quite evident as Rebellion nears its conclusion where the narrative is essentially iterated through character monologues and soliloquies – or telling rather than showing – a directorial choice I have always found to be difficult to pass off within films or series as a sign of significantly strong storytelling. This does not really occur until much later within the film though, but it is a noticeable attribute of the film that derives from offering up layer upon layer of new plot developments within the confinement of a singular film. Newly introduced characters such as Nagisa, the latest magical girl to enter the fray, are also heavily underutilized throughout the film, bearing the appearance of Urobuchi and staff as simply wanting to add something new for the sake of doing so. It does not severely detract from the astute quality of the overall film, but it does make one ponder the possibility of what the film may have been like if such revelatory plot devices were brought about more subtlety or perhaps removed all together.

From a visual standpoint, the film does coincide excellently with the emotional direction of the narrative itself. Even more abstract in artistic style than the television series, the experimental visuals of the film correlates with the confused and emotionally challenged mental landscapes of the characters themselves. There is a distinct blurring between the real world and the underworld as well, with the city of Mitakihara slowly losing its tangible function as a lively metropolis and succumbing to the bizarre visual intricacies of the underworld as the film progresses. Studio Shaft and animation duo Gekidan Inu Curry cooperate once again and deliver a phenomenal visual feast that equates Rebellion to some of the more visually pleasing films of the past several years. Utilizing stop-motion, computer graphics, and hand drawn illustrations, the look of Rebellion is unmistakably gorgeous, with a level of distinctness that easily rivals the emotional and psychological tendencies of the film and the franchise as a whole. The personal turmoils of the entire cast of characters are expressed through the film’s animation, which crosses over into having us better sympathize with their challenging journeys of redemption.

Ultimately, Rebellion will undoubtedly be a challenging film for many viewers. As the supposedly concluding piece to the Madoka Magica universe – Urobuchi has already stated that this may not be the last we see of the Madoka Magica series – Rebellion presents a culmination of complex ideas surrounding friendship, hope, and despair, further subverting our own idealized understanding of the mahou shoujo genre. And while the eventual fate of these characters is what will lead many individuals to dispute if the actions taken by them were the right choices or not, or if the completely unforeseeable and bittersweet conclusion was necessary, the fact remains that the film is indeed a very dark and involving exploration of individuals attempting to rectify who they are as individuals and what they truly mean to one another. It is an incredibly powerful and sorrowful viewing experience, never truly allowing any of these characters to find true happiness but also never completely removing the possibility for them to do so. It is this paradox that places Puella Magi Madoka Magica as a series unafraid to traverse difficult boundaries and establish itself as a series unlike many others, along the way overcoming many of the conventional barriers of the genre in which it resides in. It is fundamentally a series that was never simply about magical girls with magnificent powers, instead becoming a more meaningful and surprisingly more impactful viewing experience – not for what it is but because of what it chooses not to be.

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Author: Miguel Douglas

As an avid viewer of both Japanese animation and cinema for more than a decade now, Miguel is primarily concerned with establishing a critical look into both mediums as legitimate forms of artistic, cultural, and societal understanding. Never one to simply look at a film or series based solely on superficiality, Miguel has dedicated himself towards bringing awareness to Asian entertainment and its various facets.

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